Archives For Asheville

This past Friday in Asheville, North Carolina was the second annual Blessings on the River: an Oshun Veneration & Concert. Held in concert with rites performed at Asheville’s sister city of Osogbo, Nigeria, proceeds from donations during the veneration benefited the Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove. The event was sponsored by the Zamani Refuge African Culture Center, with event altars constructed by Mother Grove Goddess Temple. Valeria Osunyemi Watson-Doost from the Zamani Refuge, herself a priestess of Oshun, has posted a four-part video series from the event on Youtube.

Here are the links for part 2, part 3, and part 4. You can also watch footage from the inaugural event last year.

This looks like an excellent example of how a US-based Goddess/Pagan community can participate in an event for the benefit of indigenous pre-Christian religions in far-flung parts of the globe. Local writer Byron Ballard, a member of the Mother Grove Goddess Temple, and blogger for the Asheville Citizen-Times, noted that the event was “a terrific opportunity to connect with people in our community who practice a beautiful spirituality”. I imagine that participants in Asheville and Osogbo have both been enriched by this experience, and that practitioners of Yoruba Traditional Religion have achieved a kind of outreach and understanding rarely found in the United States.

As the modern Paganism movement become an increasingly international phenomenon, we are going to get more chances like this to interact, share, and make alliances with indigenous faiths and revived Paganisms across the globe. Outreach efforts to European indigenous faiths, African traditional religions (and African diasporic faiths), and indigenous faiths in the Americas, Asia, and the Middle East may allow advances we couldn’t achieve alone. I will be tracking this phenomenon in the months to come.

You have to love the Unitarian Universalists, they’re the only religious denomination that’s includes more theological diversity than the modern Pagan movement does. Pagans, Christians, Humanists, Buddhists, and Jews mix and mingle freely at UU churches across the country. So when I heard about the controversy over the election of Cecil Bothwell, a writer and avowed “post-theist”, to the Asheville city council, I wasn’t at all surprised to hear he’s an active member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Asheville. What’s the controversy? He’s making national headlines because local Christians are arguing that he can’t serve because he doesn’t believe in God.

“North Carolina’s constitution is clear: politicians who deny the existence of God are barred from holding office. Opponents of Cecil Bothwell are seizing on that law to argue he should not be seated as a City Council member today, even though federal courts have ruled religious tests for public office are unlawful under the U.S. Constitution. Voters elected the writer and builder to the council last month … Article 6, section 8 of the state constitution says: “The following persons shall be disqualified for office: First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God.” Rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution trump the restriction in the state constitution, said Bob Orr, executive director of the N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law.”

The story has made On Faith, Fox, the Associated Press, the Chicago Tribune, and Rachel Maddow (among other outlets).

Naturally, any legal actions to remove Bothwell are ultimately doomed to failure thanks to this thing called the United States Constitution, where Article VI, section 3, states that:

“The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

That not only allows atheists and post-theists to hold political office despite local laws and prejudices, but also allows Pagan politicians like Dan Halloran and Jessica Orsini to do so as well. This right of freedom from a religious test for government office or employment was strengthened by the 1961 Supreme Court case Torcaso v. Watkins, that ruled:

“We repeat and again reaffirm that neither a State nor the Federal Government can constitutionally force a person “to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.” Neither can constitutionally pass laws or impose requirements which aid all religions as against non-believers, and neither can aid those religions based on a belief in the existence of God as against those religions founded on different beliefs.

In short, it doesn’t matter if you are a theist, post-theist, atheist, or polytheist, you can’t be denied government office or position, at any level, due to your belief, or lack of belief, in divinity. A level playing field that infuriates those who continually insist that America belongs to Christianity alone. A win here for this UU post-theist is a win for all religious minorities, and those concerned about maintaining a separation of church and state.

“I’m fielding e-mails from dozens of people around the country—so far all supportive—and the writers include Christians as well as atheists and Quakers and Muslims and pagans and more. I’ve read some of the thousands of comments posted on blogs and the vast majority of folks support the separation of church and state that has figured so prominently in the history of this country. It is reassuring to me that there is such a broad understanding that freedom OF religion necessarily includes freedom FROM religion, else such a guarantee has no real meaning.”

Congratulations to Councilman Bothwell, may he serve Asheville, and its many Pagan citizens, well.

Asheville Witches Win

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  September 3, 2008 — 2 Comments

For over a year, Dixie Deerman (aka Lady Passion), a Wiccan from Asheville, North Carolina, has been a driving force in trying to save a century-old magnolia tree from being cut down by local developers. The tree has become a galvanizing issue in Asheville, gaining support from local environmentalists and community members, and being used as a political football in City Council elections. Recently, Lady Passion and others had been keeping a 24/7 vigil at the tree in order to protect it.

Lady Passion under the magnolia tree.

“The Magnolia Tree has become a modern-day Liberty Tree. Citizens of every description — wealthy and homeless, developers and Earth Firsters, seniors and teens, Christians and Pagans, liberals and conservatives, even the mayor, several councilpersons and the police chief — have stopped by to “sit a spell,” share their troubles caused by corrupt government and a collapsing economy, and give us their heartfelt thanks for what we are doing. Many leave offerings for the tree, which seems to exert a magically peaceful aura — partly because, as conservative councilman Carl Mumpower noted when he visited the tree, magnolia bark is known to have anti-depressant qualities. And they add their signatures to the thousands of others on a Stop Parkside! petition.”

Now it seems that the Witches (and their allies) have won. On Aug. 28, Superior Court Judge Marlene Hyatt ruled in favor of the family who had originally donated the land to the county, saving the tree, and the surrounding park, from further development.

“The lawsuit asserted that Pack had donated the land on the condition that it be preserved in perpetuity for public use—and that it would revert to his heirs if it were ever sold for private purposes, as the county did in 2006. Coleman had planned to build the nine-story Parkside condominium project on that land and an adjacent parcel he’d previously purchased. “George Pack made it abundantly clear exactly what the purpose of this land was: It was meant for a courthouse, for county offices or for public purposes,” Ferikes told the court.”

Lady Passion and Coven Oldenwilde are naturally quite happy with this ruling.

“We are thrilled with this unprecidented win, and very appreciative of the over 9,000 people who signed the Stop Parkside petition, the hundreds who actively enabled our tree sit in innumerable ways, and the God/desses who answered our hearfelt pleas: All hail Hecate, Herne, Themis, Maat, Flidais and Nike! We remain vigilant in preventing retribution against the tree until Hyatt signs the official order restoring the land into public use (she’s on vacation at present). Please help us continue to defend the magnolia if you’re nearby; if you live afar, do so by viewing the tree 24/7 via webcam…”

So it looks like those “Barbarous Words of Power to thwart the developer”, and a lot of local activism, have won the day. Congratulations to Lady Passion, Coven Oldenwilde, and the Stop Parkside coalition on saving the tree, and the land surrounding it, from development.